With a surprising 41-20 win over Akron, Lance Leipold and staff now have a chance to salvage a season that meets expectations. They showed last week that they have a team that could’ve arguably been bowl eligible this season. But the times have changed. Buffalo sits at 2-6 overall and the odds are against them to win out—the Bulls still have to face #23 Western Michigan before season’s end.
Firstly, Buffalo still needs to survive their upcoming bout with the Ohio Bobcats. For the second straight year, Frank Solich is taking his team to a bowl as they currently sit with a 6-3 record (4-1 in the MAC). Ohio is heading into this matchup with loads of momentum after holding Toledo to its lowest offensive output this year.
This isn’t a big test just because Ohio is a bowl-bound team this season. It’s a test on the Bulls’ consistency. Buffalo is coming off their best offensive performance of the season—a performance that was accentuated by their ground game. Only one of their touchdowns was from the air.
Buffalo also had their best performance defending the rush with 128 yards allowed dating back to their 22-16 loss to FCS Albany. If the Bulls can continue to defend the ground game this well, then their chances of finishing 5-7 are much higher.
The last two points are both things that the Bulls need to keep making advances and establish consistency. Ohio runs a pistol offense and their current starting quarterback isn’t afraid to run the ball. The Bobcats are the best team for the Bulls to face right now in a sense of evaluating where they’re at.
It’s not expected that Buffalo wins this game, but the tools to bring a win back to Amherst are certainly there. Last week, Buffalo’s offense catered to the current strengths of the team. There weren’t nearly as many inaccurate dive bombs deep in the field from Tyree Jackson. Because of that, the run game flourished. Jordan Johnson was able to show for the first time in the past three years why he’s been the best running back in UB’s arsenal.
A win would brighten up the picture of the 2016 season. But, a win in this game isn’t necessary to salvage the year. If Buffalo can clamp down on rush defense to a reasonable degree and find a way to score more than 21 points on offense, it’s a success regardless. A showing like that can bring hope to UB’s games versus Miami and at Bowling Green—the two remaining MAC East bottom feeders on the schedule.
With 42 newcomers on the roster it would’ve been criminal to expect the Bulls to win eight games this year. But the talent to get four — especially with the condition of the MAC East — is most certainly there. If Lance Leipold can get to that 4-8 mark, his job and all of his staff’s jobs are saved in my mind. I would say this week’s game at Ohio is more important than you think.